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Rebecca Kase
How EMDR Can Help Treat Anxiety
Kase & CO Training and Consulting
. https://kaseandco.com/

How EMDR Can Help Treat Anxiety

Many people struggle with anxiety, ruminating thoughts, or even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These issues can severely affect a person’s quality of life, and without intervention, can lead to a lifetime of unrealized potential, unhappiness, depression, and sometimes even suicidal ideation. An evidence-based therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has been found to be an effective approach to combat anxiety, allowing people to lead more fulfilling lives.

What is EMDR and bilateral stimulation?

EMDR is an evidence-based therapy for trauma and PTSD. It has also been shown to be effective with common things such as anxiety, depression, and addiction. EMDR relies on the nervous system’s natural abiltiy to heal and process information and uses something called bilateral stimulation to help clients find relief from troublesome symptoms. 

EMDR believes that most symptoms of anxiety and trauma stem from unresolved, maladaptively stored memories. Our nervous systems can get overwhelmed due to stressful and traumatic experiences. 

When the nervous system gets overwhelmed, this can lead to memories being “maladaptively” stored. That simply means that the memory is stored in a way that it causes a lot of distress in our lives, in the forms of anxiety, panic, excessive worry, sleepless nights, flashbacks, and more. 

Your nervous system is wired to process experiences and store memories in a way that promotes your health and wellness. Sometimes, however, experiences are not so easily processed on their own, which is where EMDR can come in as a helpful tool. 

First developed in the mid-1980s by Dr. Francine Shapiro, EMDR has been widely studied, growing in recognition and popularity over the past 30 years. It is recognized as a first-line treatment for PTSD and trauma, with growing evidence for its usefulness for anxiety and panic. 

EMDR comprises eight phases, and each phase works together to ensure a complete, effective, holistic treatment for the patient:

  • Intake and history taking happen within phase one. Within this phase, the therapist will learn about the patient’s background and what led them to seek help for their anxiety.
  • This is followed by the preparation phase. During preparation, the patient learns regulation and coping skills for their anxiety.
  • Phase three is assessment. During assessment, your therapist will have you select a memory that you have targeted in a previous phase and will ask you to connect with the images, thoughts, feelings, and sensations related to the memory. Activating the memory is an important component of treatment.
  • Phase four is desensitization. In this phase, the therapist will ask you to think about the memory while also noticing bilateral stimulation (BLS) provided in the form of eye movements, audio tones, or tapping. BLS is a means for taxing the memory or causing a distraction, meaning the level of distress you feel typically subsides quickly. Furthermore, taxing the memory with this form of distraction is shown to “break” the memory which causes it to lose its intensity.
  • In phase five — called installation — the positive beliefs that the patient identified in phase three are installed in place of the feelings of anxiety associated with past trauma.
  • In phase six, the therapist will assess whether there is any physical response to the traumatic memory and the newly installed positive belief. If tension and anxiety are still present, stimulation should continue until the intended results are achieved.
  • The final two phases, closure and reevaluation, are designed to evaluate the positive progress the patient has made and discuss the levels of anxiety or lack thereof going forward. 

EMDR is a very different form of therapy because it relies on the natural abilities of your nervous system, and uses bilateral stimulation. While processing a memory, clients report feelings, sensations, thoughts, and even other memories coming into their awareness. 

Following the successful processing of this memory, clients can think about it and report no emotional disturbance. Clients often report that the memory is “fuzzy” or “foggy” and they can’t really connect to it any longer. Many clients even find adaptive and positive meaning in an experience that they previously only thought about in a negative manner.

The EMDR eight-step process has shown to be wildly effective, with one study from the UK showing that upwards of 90% of participants had no anxiety response to trauma after just three 90-minute EMDR sessions.

For all anxiety sufferers

EMDR has been proven effective for patients of all ages, from children to elderly adults. Anxiety can be experienced by anyone, and by unlocking the power of the body’s nervous system, EMDR can help anxiety sufferers find relief. 

Modern science does not entirely understand why the nervous system seems to hold on to traumatic experiences. What emerges when the nervous system stores these experiences is symptoms of anxiety. By reprocessing and releasing these experiences, anxiety can be alleviated. Symptoms of anxiety can have devastating effects not only on the psyche, but also on the body. Patients can feel light-headed, have heart palpitations, experience headaches and other body aches, or experience restlessness. Through calming sight, sound, and tactile stimulation, this veritable storm of symptoms can be calmed.

EMDR is not a one-size-fits-all therapy model, but rather one that can be tailored to each individual patient’s needs and specific trauma. The practice is gaining worldwide attention, especially since Prince Harry himself extolled the benefits of the therapy on a recent episode of “The Me You Can’t See.” 

For people who may struggle with typical talk therapy, where verbalizing trauma is stressed, EMDR could be the perfect solution. EMDR can be an internal process with one’s therapist, where verbalizing the trauma one has experienced may not be necessary to find healing. 

Not a magic bullet, but a helpful path 

Being that EMDR uses bilateral stimulation, which sounds strange to many, it has been misunderstood in some circles. Some people believe it’s highly controversial, even though it isn’t. 

On the flip side, some have suggested EMDR is offered as a “magic bullet” fix for anxiety, when in reality, it is a multi-step process. There is some preparation work that needs to happen before EMDR can be effective, and a trained therapist can help their clients manage expectations with this form of therapy. 

EMDR can be a lifeline for those suffering from the negative effects of anxiety or PTSD. Through licensed and experienced therapists, sufferers can tap into the power of their nervous system and release anxiety born from traumatic experiences for good.

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